Hewlett Packard's announcement that it is to build a low-power ARM-based server - codenamed 'Project Moonshot' - is causing a stir. At least one company is decidedly unimpressed, however: SeaMicro, which has been doing exactly the same thing for over a year.
HP's partnering with Calxeda on a server-oriented ARM Cortex-A9 system means that the company will potentially start to offer extremely low-power systems, but the wording of its announcement is somewhat vague as to when a product might actually be available as a commercial endeavour.
Speaking to thinq_, SeaMicro spokesperson Tara Sims explains that HP's announcement isn't all it seems. "First: Calxeda’s five watt per four core CPU claim should have been impressive enough without the intentional obfuscation," Sims scoffs. "Only a chip company could refer to a CPU as a 'server' and suggest that the power of the chip is all that matters.
"A chip plus DRAM can’t even boot. For those of us who build servers, and more importantly, every customer who uses servers knows that they have power supplies, fans, disks, networking, and many other components, all of which consume power," adds Sims. "We found it rather interesting that HP did not disclose the power of the system despite showing what appeared to be a full system in a video.
"Second: We found it interesting that HP didn’t announce a product but instead a test platform," Sims went on to explain. "SeaMicro's products have been in the market for more than 18 months and Dell has been reselling our SM10000-64 since May. Also, Dell announced a Xeon-based microserver called Viking, some nine months back.
"HP's hesitance to announce a product gives one pause. From the sidelines it is difficult to tell if this is because the Calxeda chip isn’t ready for prime-time — a hypothesis supported by the fact that they didn’t release any performance data — or if HP just isn't yet prepared to invest more than lab space and time."
Those are far from the only holes Sims claims exist in Project Moonshot. "The observations that 4GB of DRAM for four cores is much too little, that 95 per cent of the world’s servers are 64-bit and the Calxeda part is 32-bit, was made often and needs no mention," mentioned Sims. "Undoubtedly Intel will be making the point, and a fair point, that there just isn’t any software to run on the ARM instruction set. Customers hate to have to recompile and retest their software applications."
Sims is hardly unbiased: SeaMicro's existing microserver products would compete directly with any commercialised output from Project Moonshot, but her company has at least one thing on its side: dual-architecture support. "We feel that we are well positioned to comment since the SeaMicro architecture can support x86 processors as well as ARM processors," crowed Sims, describing SeaMicro as "the pioneer of the microserver."
While SeaMicro's observations might be accurate, one thing seems clear: the microserver market looks set to become increasingly crowded as big-iron companies turn their attention to ever-smaller systems.